Finding Dory and the symbolists

These days I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by emotions. I’ve had a death in the family (not a tragedy, when someone lives to a ripe old age, but still, it has stirred up a lot of feelings for me & everyone else in my family), and was already struggling with my responses to the American election.

How handy to have films that promise escape. I’ve been a fan of animation for a long time, possibly as an offshoot of my love of opera. I link animation to the media that are essentially symbolic or dare I even say symbolist:

  • Opera (thinking especially of Wagner & Debussy)
  • Ballet and dance
  • Puppet theatre
  • Music theatre
  • Music

Documentary films, realism or naturalism onstage and in film, reality TV, or the news usually engage an entirely different part of the brain than those less explicit sorts of signification.

Finding Dory was today’s little film,  preceded by Piper an even smaller film that was in its way perhaps even more ambitious. For the first half minute I thought I was watching a real film and not animation. Finding Dory spares us that ambiguity, by letting the denizens of this world talk and squawk with cute personalities voiced by genuine stars, mostly a kind of who’s who of the comedy world (Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Ellen Degeneres, Albert Brooks and Eugene Levy are almost like comic royalty).

All those wacky voices put us at our ease, as if to say “be not afraid”, while we cope with a very challenging story.  It can’t be real.

But wow.


Poet TS Eliot

I watched this the night after an overpowering production of The Rape of Lucretia here in Toronto. I don’t think I’m offering any spoilers at this point (as I repeat what I heard over and over) by saying that the story concerns a character – the fish Dory played by Ellen Degeneres—with serious short-term memory issues. When I recall the way such things have turned up in mainstream film, which is to say, clumsily if at all, I then look at this as a strategy for story-telling. Nevermind your resistance to animation – if you’re one of the people who still thinks puppet theatre is for kids, that animation is “cartoons”. We’re in the same territory as Parsifal or The Waste Land even if many people who adore Wagner & Eliot  might be expected to look down their noses at such popular populist media.

But if you’re one of those people hahaha you’re not even reading this, right? As usual for the realm of social media, I am preaching to the choir. If you didn’t know Frank Zappa you likely wouldn’t have read what I wrote. I sometimes want to be an evangelist, spreading the gospel of what I love. I love Zappa, I love opera, I love puppet theatre, and yes I love animation. I think they’re fundamentally similar.

At a time when I have –temporarily—sworn off political posts on Facebook and am striving to be positive & sunny, Finding Dory was a no-brainer, the natural choice. I expected to cry, and was actually surprised that it elicited fewer tears than Inside Out.( a film that blew me away).  There were still a couple of warm fuzzy moments, but also lots of tough moments.

I can’t help thinking that this is a movie with real nerve. I compare it to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta I saw that made me cry years ago, Iolanthe. When you take topsy-turvy to its absolute extreme, when your happy ending is so impossible as to be an absolute oxymoron, is it truly a happy ending? Such dark thoughts may never furrow your brow, but hey I have deep furrows in my forehead this week. Dory’s plight is impossible. The story is brave & uplifting in her response to the impossible situation she faces. I hope I’m not being too dark saying this. Perhaps you’ll feel much more positive seeing it than I.  Hm, I am again reminded of how sadly Lucretia comes onstage to join her housemaids, unable to share in their joy because she’s weighed down with her impossible grief and self-judgment.  I repeat the question I asked myself when watching Iolanthe at Stratford so long ago, starring Maureen Forrester… Is an impossibly happy story really a happy story? If the solution to the contradictions of the plot is impossible, what are we really left with?
This improbable tale (Dory) takes us to some very dark places: and illuminates them. I will want to see it again perhaps in a few weeks to see if my current perspective is unreliable, and if I see it differently next time.

I did not expect this film to remind me of Maureen Forrester, nor of Avo Kittask (along for the ride).


This entry was posted in Books & Literature, Cinema, video & DVDs, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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